With US compact in House, Deuba weighing up options to get it ratifiedWhile the prime minister wants his two alliance partners, opposers of the compact, to come on board, he is in talks with the CPN-UML as well.
That the Millennium Challenge Corporation-Nepal Compact has been tabled in Parliament, Prime Minister and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba has started an exercise to get it ratified at the earliest as the February 28 deadline set by the US nears.
His coalition partners—the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and the CPN (Unified Socialist)—have demonstrated duplicity, saying they will vote against the compact, despite continuing to be part of the government.
The main opposition CPN-UML has not hinted at supporting the government in ratifying the compact, as it has maintained that it could do so only if the coalition breaks down.
Now Deuba is weighing options.
According to a senior Nepali Congress leader, Deuba will first conclude his negotiations within the ruling partners and make sure whether the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist would support the MCC or not.
“If Deuba does not get credible assurances from his alliance partners, then he will continue his negotiations with UML chair KP Sharma Oli,” said the leader.
Deuba on Monday held talks with Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and discussed the possible political scenario inside the House and sought to know the Maoist position during the voting.
The Congress leader said talks are on and more talks will be held as both Deuba and Dahal are for saving the alliance.
There has been no concrete assurance from Dahal on supporting the MCC ratification.
Feeling the urgency of the situation, Deuba on Monday held multiple meetings at Baluwatar.
Sources said the prime minister held talks with Finance Minister Janardan Sharma, Agriculture Minister Mahendra Ray, head of all security agencies, chief secretary Shanker Das Bairagi, office bearers of the party and some other ministers and party leaders earlier in the day.
Sharma represents the Maoist Center. Ray is from the Janata Samajbadi Party, which is divided over parliamentary ratification of the MCC compact.
Senior Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel also held talks with coalition leaders—Dahal, Unified Socialist chair Madhav Nepal and Janata Samajbadi Party chair Upendra Yadav.
Leaders familiar with the meeting said talks revolved around ratification of the MCC compact and saving the alliance from breaking down.
“Dahal said that the present ruling alliance will not split and the MCC compact will be concluded through the required process but he did not elaborate what process he actually meant,” Poudel told the Post. “As far as the Unified Socialist is concerned, its chair Madhav Nepal is facing a tough time convincing his party members to ratify the compact.”
As of now, both the Maoist Center and the Unified Socialist have maintained that they would vote against the compact. Some Maoist leaders have even threatened to quit the government, sooner or later.
On Sunday, Poudel held talks with senior UML leader Surendra Pandey and is said to be set to meet Oli “very soon.”
“I told the Maoist chair to vote to ratify the MCC and save the alliance. Since we have tabled the MCC compact in the House, it is also our duty to ratify it. Let's not fail the MCC and the alliance. The chairman has agreed in principle,” said Poudel.
The prime minister has expedited talks at various levels, weighing various options and meeting with leaders inside and outside the party, according to an aide to Deuba.
“The prime minister is also in touch with Oli and UML leaders,” the aide told the Post.
Sources in the Nepali Congress said that Deuba and Oli were all set to meet on Sunday but the meeting was canceled at the last hour.
On Monday morning, Deuba and deputy Parliamentary Party leader of the UML, Subas Chandra Nembang, also held talks over the telephone, sources said.
One of the major concerns Deuba communicated to Nembang is if the present alliance breaks down, major communist forces like UML, Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist could come together and contest the elections jointly.
Nembang, however, is learnt to have said the UML will contest all three tiers of election alone and won’t join hands with any political forces.
“Our position is clear,” said Nembang, “until this toxic alliance doesn’t break down, we will not extend support to the Nepali Congress.”
Nembang admitted that informal talks between Nepali Congress and the UML are going on but nothing concrete has come up.
“Our talks and negotiations with the Nepali Congress have not concluded yet. The prime minister has not made his position clear so there is no further development on joining hands with the Congress. And we have made our bottom line clear that until this alliance continues, we can’t work with the Congress,” said Nembang.
Nepali Congress leaders have insisted that the UML should support the ratification of the MCC compact because it was the UML-led government that registered it in Parliament in July, 2019.
“The UML cannot run away from its responsibility of ratifying the MCC because the grant agreement was tabled when the UML was leading the government,” said Nepali Congress spokesperson Prakash Sharan Mahat. “It is the moral and political responsibility of the UML to support MCC ratification from the House.”
Signed in September 2017 after years of negotiations with the United States, the MCC compact is a $500 million grant assistance which Nepal is supposed to use for building electricity transmission lines and improving roads.
It, however, has become a politically divisive issue with parties like the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist saying some of its provisions are against national interest.
Continued delays in ratification have Washington frustrated and it has set a February 28 deadline as demanded by Deuba and Oli in a September 29 letter to the MCC headquarters.
After a top MCC official said in an interview with the Post that they are not going to wait beyond February 28, a US assistant secretary of state in separate phone conversations with Deuba, Oli and Dahal said that Washington could even review its Nepal ties if Nepali leaders failed to ratify the compact by the set timeframe.
Even as Deuba and his Nepali Congress are determined to ratify the compact, confusion persists.
“Oli had registered the MCC compact in the House but he could not conclude it. Now, we have tabled it for voting and we expect the UML to support it,” said Mahat. “There is no alternative for the UML to go against a proposal that was tabled by a government it led.”